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Debbie Hurren and Vanessa Harvey

Having spent more than 16 years each working for St Nic’s, Catering Manager Debbie Hurren and Chef Vanessa Harvey have spent over three decades cooking up a storm. There have been countless cakes baked, scores of scones enjoyed, and a myriad of wholesome meals have been prepared.

“I get a lot of job satisfaction from helping a patient with no appetite to be encouraged to even eat just a small amount of food.”

If there is a special event or occasion at the Hospice, you can usually find the Catering Team at the forefront. Over the years, they have been involved in creating so many special memories for patients and their families, from afternoon teas to wedding cakes and buffets for family occasions.

Debbie explains: “I get a lot of job satisfaction from helping a patient with no appetite to be encouraged to even eat just a small amount of food”.

“In those moments, we can see that we have made a difference to them. You just feel like you are needed.”

“We do get positive feedback on the food from patients, visitors and staff and that always feels nice. I have been in catering a long time, and I just like what the Hospice stands for and what it does.”


“We have worked together for a long time.”

Debbie said: “I arrived in January 2007, and Vanessa started in April 2007, so we have worked together for a long time. “Too long,” joked Vanessa.

“I started as a chef manager, so I did a lot more cooking rather than the management side of it, and then things started to change, and it was recognised that I was doing a lot more management and that I was involved in a lot of other things outside of the cooking, and they wanted my role to be more of a catering manager. So another chef was brought in part-time, and then I became the Catering Manager, and I have had that role ever since,” Debbie continued.

Vanessa arrived at St Nic’s as a Catering Assistant for our newly opened Bistro in Bradbury Green (the Hospice’s social space). A couple of years ago, Vanessa decided that she wanted to develop her role and train to become a chef. She did this through a work-based apprenticeship programme, which the Hospice supported.

“I enjoyed being a Catering Assistant and working in the Bistro. I was happy doing it, and it was quite a lot of years before I decided that I wanted to do some more cooking.

“I just started to do a little bit more cooking, random bits here and there for the Bistro and the ward. Then, during Covid-19, I started my chef course. I did a Production Chef NVQ that took 18 months, and I passed it around a year ago.

“There were lots of Microsoft Teams meetings due to Covid-19, a lot of assignments, and I passed that with distinction. I was really surprised to get a distinction. I found the course a lot more enjoyable than I thought I would. I’m not really someone who enjoys studying, so I was surprised, and it really helped my confidence.

“The role for a full-time chef came up, and well, here I am. I enjoy the challenges this chef role brings, but it is nice that I can still go back and cover the Bistro sometimes.”

Vanessa has been enjoying her role at the Hospice for around a year.


“I applied for the job because my Mum was in the Hospice”

Debbie and Vanessa are among our longest-serving staff members, while another in their team is our second longest-serving members of staff, having worked for the Hospice for more than 26 years.

But what led them to St Nic’s?

Debbie said: “I’d been working at the college for about four years, and I took a management course there. After I’d finished the course, I just wanted something different. I wanted to try something new.

“If I am honest, I didn’t really know anything about the Hospice. It’s terrible to say now, but I didn’t even know what the Hospice was. But, as soon as I came here, I knew that I wanted the job. There was just something about the place.”

“For me, I think the real reason that I applied for the job was that my Mum was in the Hospice, probably about four years before I joined. So I knew a little bit about the place from my experience, and I saw the advert, and I thought I’d apply,” added Vanessa.


“Going from strength to strength”

Over the years, our Catering Team has welcomed many new faces, and farewells have been said. The team, which is supported by volunteers, has remained around the same size, but there have still been plenty of changes. The team’s remit has grown, and their tasty food is not only enjoyed by those in the Hospice’s Hardwick Lane site.

Debbie explains: “The café at our Haverhill Hub (then the Burton Centre) opened in 2014, and I was part of opening that all up.

“My role really is to be in charge of anything to do with catering at the Hospice, the Hub and we are also involved with providing catering for fundraising events and hospitality and now we have started to do a little bit of outside catering too, to help bring a little extra money in.

“The chef at Haverhill decided to retire, so we now produce all of the food for them and take it over to them.”

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns also forced changes for Debbie, Vanessa and the rest of the Catering Team.

“Things did change quite dramatically through Covid and the pandemic. Our Orchard Day Services stopped, and we had to change how we worked quite a lot.

“The Haven Café had to close. We were able to keep the Bistro open for people, but it was a really tough situation for everyone.

“After the lockdowns, we were able to open the Haven Café again, and that is really going from strength to strength.

There was a time when we didn’t think we’d be able to open again, so seeing how well the café is doing is great, and we are pleased with that,” said Debbie.


“It may be small, but we have contributed to the difference that has been made.”

The Catering Team have also been responsible for catering milestones events for staff, with several wedding buffets created and cakes baked over the years.

They also support other teams when catering is requested for events and fundraising occasions too, with one of their biggest undertakings being to ensure welcome treats for our Girls Night Out walkers after they’ve crossed the finish line.

Over the years, thousands of walkers have enjoyed bacon rolls (vegetarian alternatives, too), cupcakes and biscuits, and a welcome cup of hot chocolate.

Vanessa said: “I always found Girls Night Out very emotional. When you stand there and see so many people who have been affected in some way by the Hospice, I always felt quite proud to be part of the Hospice as a whole.”

The Hospice makes such a difference to so many, and when you are at events like Girls Night Out, you really feel like the Hospice has made lots of difference to so many, and we are part of that. It may be small, but we have contributed to the difference that has been made.”

“For me, what I enjoy about my role is knowing what we are here for. I’ve always liked the fact that we are able to make a little bit of a difference to the people we are looking after. Whether that’s the patients, their families or helping the fundraisers, and staff and volunteers generally, I think that’s what keeps me going.”


“Scone mornings must be the biggest talking point at the Hospice.”

Debbie explains: “I think scones and scone mornings must be the biggest talking point at the Hospice.

“Scone mornings started because, at the time, we didn’t have the Bistro, and everyone really just ate in their offices, and it wasn’t very social, so the managers at the time wanted to change that and do something that would bring people together. Get them away from their desks and out of the office to mingle one day a week, so scone mornings began.

“Once the Bistro did open, there wasn’t quite such a need to have scone mornings every week, but they were still regular. We haven’t had as many in recent years, but when we do, they are always popular.”


Three words to sum up the Hospice

Vanessa said: “I’d say emotional.”

“Worthwhile. I think it’s amazing that we have this building and that we are able to look after people the way we do,” adds Debbie.

And “definitely caring,” they both agree.

Do you have a story about your connection with St Nicholas Hospice Care?

In our 40th year celebration, we want to highlight the many contributions in our Hospice’s history.

We’re aiming to proudly feature 40 faces across the year, could you be someone who has a story to share?

If you are someone who has a fond memory to share, you can do so here.